Thoughts on Dave’s talk today

Finally, my driving-home impressions of Dave’s talk today:

  1. It was interesting seeing how tightly tuned the Microsoft crowd was to issues of blogging platforms (e.g. SharePoint vs. LiveJournal vs. other platforms) and less to the social impact of blogging, both inside the organization and on society as a whole, which seemed to me to be rather more along the lines of Dave’s point. At one point with all the SharePoint questions, I wondered if the product team had been on the “to” line of the invitation.
  2. Really interesting message about blogging both positive and negative messages about your organization (in the context of the Channel Dean incident).
  3. Dave’s point about the 2004 election is right on. There’s a sense among a lot of people, even folks who aren’t normally political, that this is our chance to take hold of the reins of this country again and bring it back away from paranoia and extremism and back to the values that we were created in. And a lot of the empowerment stems from learning in the blogosphere that we aren’t alone. Of course it doesn’t end in the blogosphere. People have to get out and vote.
  4. Which brings me to my next observation: I think that we still haven’t hashed out the difference between the blogosphere’s role in affecting “influentials” (whether in the technical or political world) and effecting real change. It’s hard to get a bunch of engineers via weblogs and wikis to agree on adopting technological formats; harder still to convince someone to vote for a candidate on the web, particularly when they don’t necessarily read your weblog. (Remember, I have many readers; 20, in fact (or 21, as I just got contacted by another today!).)
  5. But if Dave Winer reads your blog and tells five hundred or a thousand people? Or Glenn Reynolds? And some of those people are law professors, or media folks, or ministers, or what have you, and they tell 10 others…
  6. One thing is for sure: this model of the blogosphere as people talking to influencers and invisible channels of influence sure puts my thoughts about measuring the reach of the blogosphere in perspective, which is to say in the circular file. Technorati and its peer tools can tell you what bloggers are talking about, but not about whether their readers are paying attention and doing anything about it.
  7. Interesting thoughts from Dave about Microsoft publishing the worst people have to say about it on the PressPass site. Must remember to suggest that to the editor. Seriously, though, it’s not out of the realm of the feasible to suggest that Duncan Mackenzie’s Visual Basic blog (which appears on the MSDN Visual Basic dev center) might discuss some of the issues that VB 6 developers are having migrating to .NET head on.
  8. Dave says that knowledge sharing via weblogs at Harvard is going slowly. Should that have been a surprise? Maybe not. I think the biggest takeaway from the speech today was that change is hard, particularly in organizations.

Why liveblog?

That is, why go to events like Dave Winer’s talk today at Microsoft, MacWorld San Francisco 2002 or BloggerCon and take notes about everything that’s going on, and post them in real time to your blog?

Two reasons, at least for me. One is that taking extensive notes helps me to pay attention. I’ve always learned better when I took copious notes; not so much for later review as for making me focus on the words at hand.

Second, I hopefully add some incremental value for folks who can’t attend the events in question.

Of course, one adds more value through commentary than transcription. Soon, soon…

So much for Bloomsday

Clancy Ratliff at CultureCat points to threats from the James Joyce estate to enforce copyright through lawsuits if there are public readings of Ulysses during the 100th anniversary Bloomsday festivals this June.

For the uninitiated, Bloomsday marks the anniversary of the events of Joyce’s brilliant novel, which all occur on the 16th of June in 1904. The occasion is typically marked by all day readings of the novel in pubs and other gathering places, a typically Irish homage to an otherwise monstrously forbidding work (at least by reputation). The threats have caused the 100th Anniversary celebration to cancel planned readings and performances of Joyce’s works. I can’t imagine that the estate thinks this will help appreciation of Joyce’s work. Maybe it’s time that someone introduced them to the economic concept of “growing the pie” by building demand for Joyce’s works, rather than crouching in the corner muttering “my preciousss” over royalties.

In the meantime, I’m marking my calendar to be violating some serious copyright law on the 16th of June. Care to join me?

QTN™: Ridley’s Witchfinder Porter

Before I tuck into follow-up thoughts from Dave’s talk today at Microsoft, a brief pause of appreciation for a really fine porter. One of my monthly beer selections, Ridley’s Witchfinder Porter. Color when poured is a deep ruby-black, with a big (albeit shortlived) thick white head. Nose is malty, toffee-ish almost, with hints of chocolate. After that, the initial taste is malty and full but turns surprisingly, pleasantly dry after, with hints of smoke and more chocolate after. Definitely recommended as a pleasant change from American porters (not that there’s anything wrong with them…)

Dave part 4: Q&A


Difference from a departmental home page? It’s not different. The two are converging. The technology and user interface are now boxed up in the concept “weblog.”

Sounds a lot like the Sharepoint vision? Dave says, how’s that doing? We have two competing visions, one coming from one company–I don’t know that about it. Does it use open standards? (Some discussion about the question.) Questioner: I think you’re saying publishing is less interesting than sharing information. Is it about standards? Dave: No, not really, I don’t like the standards word very much. It’s about open formats. If I’m using Sharepoint–and here I assume there’s no problem with Sharepoint, I accept it does most everything you’d want to do. I wonder if I had a problem with one thing Sharepoint did, and I asked the Sharepoint team to fix it and they didn’t, then where do I go?

I think competition is good. And I think that Microsoft doesn’t necessary see it this way. I remember back in 1999, when Steve Ballmer and I were in a conference together, I said, “I hope when this is all over that Netscape survives. I think it would be good for you.” And he said, “That’s not the way we do things.” And I think if Netscape had survived–and it did a pretty good job of imploding on itself–it would have been stronger and stronger, and there would have been other companies that would have chased it. And there would have been more choices, and things would have gotten better.

Where are we today? There haven’t been new releases of MSIE in a few years, and there are few bug fixes and barely enough security patches. But we’re increasingly doing business on the Internet. And we’re devoting almost no resources to fixing IE which is the majority browser.

Q: Are blogs working at Harvard? If not, why not? Is it a technology problem or a social problem? It’s a social problem. Or maybe it’s not a problem, maybe the premise was wrong. As you go down the hierarchy the interest in blogging goes up. And vice versa, because the people higher up have their “blog,” it’s called their referreed journal. It’s definitely not about the technology. It’s social issues, and changes like these take time.

You see the same issue at Microsoft. There are a lot of really interesting bloggers here with very little executive oversite, which I think is great.

Q: Let me paint a Sharepoint scenario for you. The first version goes up as specs, and then people revise the specs and upload and so on and so forth, and you have a big tree. How would you do that with blogs? Dave: It doesn’t sound like very blog like. But maybe you could use a blog to do most recent changes or something.

Q: RSS sounds like it’s great for people who care about freshness. What about people who want the most authoritative content? Dave: Well, I think there are three ways of managing and finding information–chronology, which is blogs, search, and taxonomy, which it sounds like it might be Sharepoint. Q: So do I use RSS to find information about the presidential campaigns? Dave: The verb with RSS is to subscribe. You want search. Q: But how do you know which feeds to trust? Dave: It’s not always about trust. Sometimes it’s entertainment. Subscription is the highest form of praise. It’s much stickier, it’s much harder to shake someone once you’ve subscribed. Sometimes your job is to assimilate all these sources and make up your own mind.

Q: You talked about the team blog at Dean not putting up the finishing third. Why was this surprising? Don’t organizations have egos and want to protect themselves? A: It was the smartest thing to do. He said, “We finished third.” It was from the campaign. Reporters were circling, and he just put it out there. But until that point, the blog hadn’t made an investment in presenting a balanced perspective. This was my problem with the Dean campaign. I went to the campaign blog trying to get information to convince me, and they were just giving information to people who had already made up their mind. Q: It’s hard to do that… Dave: But maybe it’s about putting all your conflicts of interest out there so that people understand your tone. Q: There’s a part of corporate culture that says “Bad news travels fastest”–internal to Microsoft. Dave: Maybe you should consider turning that outside. Maybe if we had a presidential candidate who would put the bad news first he might win. Because if you tune into presidential campaigns you hear candidates say “I believe in more jobs. I’m the environmental candidate.” And reporters aren’t asking serious questions that anyone wants answered. That’s not communication. The candidates are just trying to get their soundbites out there. It’s seriously dysfunctional.

Q: Where do you see blogging going as more stuff gets digital? A: Well, I’m a text guy. And I use PhotoShop, I use about three commands. Q: What about voice? A: A year ago I would have said sure. But now I’ve used it and I’m not sure. I work at the Berkman Center with Chris Lydon–having dinner with him and his voice is like having dinner with NPR–and he did a series of interviews with pioneers of blogging. Serious, interesting stuff. But I wouldn’t call that a blog. Q: It’s oral history. A: Yeah, and I’m not saying that because it’s not a blog it’s not good. When I tried to quantify what I meant by a blog, I said “it has an editorial voice.” Q: But what about voice interfaces, would that lower the barrier to entry? A: I think they’re pretty widespread already. Q: But if we have hundreds of millions of customers how do we reach them with blogs? How do we get our customers educated about them? How do we get them interested? A: (Solve their problems?) That’s a pretty heavy trip to lay on a humble piece of software. Word processing didn’t have that trip and it did just fine, growing slowly and steadily. But there’s a way that blogs can influence people–influence percolates in slow and steady ways through our culture. How many reporters are there covering the campaign? A busload for each candidate, Kerry probably has two. How many bloggers are there? A couple million? How can the reporters keep up with that?

Q: [A clarification that Sharepoint can do news items and RSS–it’s not incompatible with blogging.]

Q: We used to say that the Internet would do away with mass media. Now I hear the same things about blogs. A: Look at it this way. Blogs are the promise from 1994, 1995, 1996. It’s not about us vs. mass media. Blogging was happening all during that time slowly and steadily, and when the bubble burst, blogs kept going. Q: But the promise was that the web would allow us to communicate mano a mano, and now it’s gone to a portal and consumer model. A: I agree, and maybe we need to get more mature as bloggers to allow this to happen.

Q: What about enabling private communication and authentication, so that only certain people can read private posts? A: I think you better go to LiveJournal for that. It’s a unique feature and it’s pretty cool. But blogging is publishing and the root of publishing is “public.” And why is LiveJournal not a blog?

Q: What about group blogs? Do you see a need for group blogs? A: No, and I’m a radical about that, a lot of people disagree with me. First of all, there are a lot of ways of combining blogs. I can subscribe to you and you and you and create a group blog. Why did I need you to do it for me? One of the pragmatic problems about group blogs is where should I post? If I have one blog, I post it there. But if I have two, do I push it to both places? And I think that’s confusing as a reader. Which one do I read?

Q: What about blogging in other formats–mobile devices, etc.? A: That’s just like the question about audio and voice. I don’t think I could display a blog on this device and I know I couldn’t write one on it. Maybe it could be done but I’m not an expert.

Q: I subscribe to 200 feeds and I know some people subscribe to 1000 feeds. I can’t see subscribing to many more than those. I’m afraid I’m missing information. A: I don’t see that as a problem–I think that 1000 feeds is ridiculous. How are there those many feeds worth reading? I think it’s a quality problem, not a human scale problem. Q: But what about the issue of people only reading blogs in their own circle? How do you avoid myopia? A: I know what you mean–like the warbloggers. I learned about them from the WSJ, and they were talking about them like there were no other types of blogs. But how do you get around that? Maybe you don’t. But maybe you get systematic about it, you find people who bridge camps, and you send email to Glenn Reynolds, and if you don’t do it too often he points to you. And maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. There are theories out there that because the top three blogs get so many readers, it will be just like TV. But if there are these little galaxies of bloggers, that’s not going to happen. In the monoculture, only the best get to perform. But in galaxies of blogs, everyone gets to sing. Storytelling is part of human nature. In the blog world, we get to tell stories too. And they laugh at us and say how trivial we are. And I think you just have to get past that.

Q: You said LiveJournal isn’t really a blog. I use LiveJournal, and… A: Did I say that? I think that’s the conventional wisdom. Let me reverse that–did I hurt your feelings? Q: But doesn’t the public-private facilitate back and forth between friends? A: It is what it is. I don’t think you need comments–I turned mine off because if I didn’t all my comments would be all flames. Is it the unedited voice of a person? That’s the important thing. Blogs allow you to play in the same space as the big boys.

Q: What’s the difference between blogs and discussion boards? A: Huge difference. On discussion boards, everyone has an equal voice (after the thread starts). And the thing about that is, anyone can flame it out at will. It’s funny because I promote the democratic nature of a blog. And blogs aren’t democratic at all. On my blog what I say goes. It’s a publication. It’s a part of the writing process. When I was on Wired, I got flames for a gender article. And in the next column I wrote about being flamed, and I got mails from journalists saying, “Go look at the letter page of Newsweek and Time and newspapers.” And they were full of flames. So it can be important. But if it affects your writing, maybe you’re better turning off comments and not caring whether people read what you write and just jumping out the airplane without a parachute.

Q: You said blogs are unedited and some people have really badly written blogs. Is there something that can be done to help that? A: You have to learn to write. But on the flip side if I see really polished writing I know there’s no soul there at all.

Q: Do you see a reputation model in blogs based on the actual person rather than their quality of posting? A: It happens. John Perry Barlow started blogging a month ago. He’s what I call a “natural born blogger.”

Q: You said you were going to ask the IE team for some features. What did you ask them? A: Two, reading and writing. I asked for help with the act of subscribing. Right now this is a messy place, it depends on the tool and the aggregator. And there have been attempts to come up with solutions based on standards and they haven’t worked well. It’s a conundrum. Why can’t we teach the browser to subscribe and delegate that action to any other piece of software? That would be fine. On the editing side, if I want to create a new blog post, and I’m looking at something in the browser and I want to blog it that could be dramatically improved. For instance the text editor. It’s based on a technology called “Trident” and it’s better than a standard text box but it could be much better. And then the top ten problems. I’m in the middle of a blog post, and I want to check my email, and I click on mail and lose my blog post. We all learned to deal with this, but this problem could be solved. Another one is the Google toolbar with the Blogger button on it. Blogger came up with a widely supported API, but the button goes straight to Blogger.

Q: Do you have an example of a blog that doesn’t necessarily look like one? I’m thinking about library sites that pump out tips, news, etc. A: It’s hard to think about things like that that don’t look like a blog. Reverse chronology, permalinks, date and time stamps. Do you have an example? I’ve seen things like that behind firewalls, but not out in public.

Q: You talked about how blogging is lowering the threshold for influence. How would you recommend that Microsoft treat these new influentials? A: Great question. Treat them like you would the press. Expect high standards. Maybe we don’t expect high things from the press, but expect the truth, unfiltered voices, don’t expect empty cynicism. This is an opportunity to treat information flow as a new thing. But first of all be respectful. I’ve seen this bug before. The Dean campaign made a big deal in the middle of the campaign of having bloggers on the bus, but it turned out they were all Dean supporters. And you wouldn’t tolerate that from the press. It would have been a smart thing to have bloggers who were Republicans on the bus too. It would have helped with the integrity and the triangulation of the truth.

Dave part 3: Bloggers in organizations as information routers

I came to Harvard a few months after a conference where they said, “The dot-com thing is over. What do we do with the Internet?” And they decided to share information across the schools using weblog technology. And that’s how I got the job.

Think about it this way: In every workgroup, there’s one person who sends emails saying, “Here, you’ve got to check this page out.” In a sense, that person should be running the blog for the workgroup. Instead of emails, you get a trail that can be searched, checked by date, added to a taxonomy. When a new person comes on they don’t start from scratch. It also facilitates information sharing. While not everyone in the organization will be interested in this and subscribe to everyone else’s feed, if one person in a workgroup does this, that one person could act as an information router. Will everyone do this? No. But couldn’t we do better at moving information around organizations.

This is where the excitement is: using this flow, using open standards, a low tech approach. And I think Microsoft could do well here.

Dave, part II: “Voter Support Systems”

I should mention that this is my paraphrasing of Dave live. I can’t type verbatim that fast, and I’m posting real time rather than recording and returning later.

It doesn’t have to be president, in fact it was least likely that it would be a president. Because it mean confronting the power of television head on. And I think it’s pretty clear that the television channels decided that Dean wasn’t going to be president. But they don’t have that power at the state and local level. And someone is going to decide to do that. And that’s going to be my next quest, to go and find that person. And help them use weblogs, Meetup, and all that stuff. And I think we could do that in 2004.

I think that 2004 could be the most exciting campaign I’ve ever seen. Not in the horse race sense, but in the sense that we’re all involved in shaping the future of the nation.

And I think putting this all together, we’re getting to something that I call (all developers need terms) a “Voter Support System.” Because voters have no support, and they make lousy decisions.

Dave Winer at Microsoft: RSS, politics, and journalism

I got in late. Dave is on stage now talking about evolution of RSS as a format:

…aggregators both on web in channels and reverse chronological order. We now have “thousands and thousands” of feeds, both big pubs and small publishers. And through this same interface you get both. And you can get triangulation.

Which leads into the next part of the story. It’s a short drive to New Hampshire; it’s retail politics. And we made a conscious decision to go. And the difference between us covering the story as amateurs and professionals is that professionals remove themselves from the story, and we don’t. And I think it’s more honest to tell about how you got there. And people joke about blogs about people’s cats, but I don’t mind that. Because it tells you where they’re coming from and you can figure out their point of view. And places like the New York Times claim they’re coming at it from objectivity, and from my experience that’s not necesarily true, they bring their viewpoint.

And a lot of us were Dean supporters. And though Jim Moore had a role as Director of Internet and something, and the campaign had bloggers and a campaign blog, I don’t think the Dean campaign ever accepted the Internet in that they didn’t bring what they saw (not the truth, because we know that’s complex, but just what they saw) to their coverage. And it came down to me being at campaign hq, the night of the scream, and Dean said, “We finished third.” And I tried to put it in the RSS feed–not the campaign blog, but the feed for all news about the campaign. And I couldn’t do it.

I can understand that, because it’s like taking bad news about Microsoft and putting it on the PR page at But maybe you should do that, because maybe the right thing is not what you want the customer to hear but what an educated customer would want to know. And if the Dean campaign had done that, then while the networks were playing the scream over and over, readers could have gone to one channel where there was a real honest perspective.

How to remove MyDoom

Consider this a “reader request” posting. I don’t do reader requests as often as I should, but I noticed that there were quite a few people coming to my pages with questions about the MyDoom worm and realized I hadn’t included direct pointers to any worm removal tools.